Golf is so good for you that doctors should prescribe it says public health agency
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 20, 2016 11:49
The health benefits of playing golf are so considerable that doctors should effectively start prescribing it, says a government organisation.
The comments from the Local Government Association come as one of Scotland’s leading doctors has also said that the walking involved in golf, plus the social cohesion it can create, helps golfers live about five years longer than non-golfers, but this is not recognised sufficiently by society.
Dr Andrew Murray, a Scottish sports medicine doctor who is best known for tackling ultra-running challenges, is part of a group of researchers involved in a five-year project looking at the health benefits of the sport.
He said: “Golf has a unique contribution in Scotland and further afield, it is a sport that can be played from the age of four to 104, and played by all ages and both genders.
“For me it is a game I really enjoy playing with friends and family, so it also offers that social connection.
“We can confidently classify golf as a moderate aerobic physical activity – the research we have conducted supports that.”
Murray pointed to a recent study carried out in Sweden which found that golfers live on average five years longer than non-golfers, regardless of gender, age and socioeconomic status.
He added: “People think that is partly to do with physical activity, but there is also the getting out in the fresh air and the social connections and perhaps the benefits you get from that.
“Golf is something that can be started and played right across a lifetime and I think that is so important.
“I think golf has been substantially undersold – people think you have to do things like go running ultra-marathons to get health benefits.
“But if you find something you enjoy and do it regularly, that will offer you those benefits.
“Golf is a great example of something people all ages can do, they can do with friends and that is the part of the beauty of it.”
He is also involved in research investigating if golf is a sport which can offer health benefits to spectators.
“With most sports, the majority of people watching are sitting stationary in a seat, with accoutrements they have bought to eat and drink,” he said.
“But with golf, people tend to wander the four miles of the course following their favourite players and potentially doing useful physical activity.”
His comments come as the Local Government Association (LGA) has said that doctors in England and Wales should offer overweight patients ‘green space’ prescriptions to get them exercising outdoors.
The prescriptions could provide free visits to national parks or gardening sessions at National Trust properties, for example, while the LGA has showcased Surrey County Council, which has been offering golf to people over 50 as part of a two-year project since the start of this year, and East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which has developed an IT system which links up GPs with leisure centres so they can book patients directly on to exercise plans.
The LGA is calling on NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to drive the initiative forward.
The LGA, which took on responsibility for public health under the recent NHS shake-up, says exercise prescriptions would encourage people to be more active, lose weight and keep fit.
Spokeswoman Izzi Seccombe said: “There are some instances where rather than prescribing a pill, advising on some type of moderate physical activity outdoors could be far more beneficial to the patient.
“There are already some good examples where this is being piloted in the UK and it is something we should consider on a nationwide basis.”
The Royal College of General Practitioners said any decision to invest in social prescribing schemes, and roll them out more widely, must not be an alternative to investing in general practice services.
Spokesman Dr Steve Mowle said: “Social prescribing schemes can certainly be beneficial to a patient’s overall health and wellbeing – as some pilots have shown – but to be effective, there needs to be better integration between health and community services, so that GPs and our teams can signpost our patients most appropriately.”
One in four women and one in five men in England do less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week – way below the recommended amount of 150 minutes per week.
Physical activity can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression.